Solo Flights

I stood with my hand over my heart in front of the flag waiting for the Soloist to begin her rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” It’s a nerve-racking feat to sing a song with such a range of high and low notes in front of a crowd of people, and I’m sure this moment was no picnic for the lady as she began.  She didn’t mean to, I’m sure, but she sang in at least nine keys before the song was over. Every line seemed to jump up a half step or down a whole step musically, and I just closed my eyes hoping it would be over soon. The gracious audience applauded at the song’s end, and the sporting event commenced. And I got to thinking…

Why don’t we the audience sing “The Star Spangled Banner” together anymore at sporting events? Why is it relegated to a Soloist? Granted, some soloists can sing any song so well you think you were transported to another heavenly dimension when they are done, and I love to hear good singing, believe me; but there is something missing–something big and uniting missing when the voices of many are silenced for the one.

I thought about the most moving moments in the movie “The Sound of Music”  when Captain Von Trapp leads the Austrian audience in the singing of their anthem “Edelweiss”. Their collective voices joined together in a common affection for the country they held dear, and it was beautiful.

It’s not just the National Anthem that has been turned over to soloists. I’ve visited many churches in my lifetime and have watched a trend in worship music move from the collective voices of the many to the soloing voice on stage.  Congregations aren’t singing like they used to. I know there are multiple factors: new songs, no written music to follow, multiple lyrics, keys that aren’t congregation friendly, syncopations  that are tricky, vocal runs, octave jumps, and an inability to try to master the melody before its three minute run is over. All of these things can contribute to a worship experience that is only entered into by the ones on stage who rehearsed for hours before presenting.

I’ve attended conferences where the worship band for that night is recording their new album live, and I am part of the live experience in the audience, and that is fun except when I don’t know any of the songs, and an hour passes with me being a spectator instead of a worshiper. Like a kid waiting to enter a double-dutch jump-roping session, I’m looking for an opening, but can’t get in. So I just close my eyes and sing my own song to God in my heart.

One of my children told me the other day that they struggled to learn a new song in church, and just gave up singing. I said, “Imagine what the older generation is going through. Worship leaders don’t sing their songs anymore in church.”

“I never thought about that!” they said.

How can we create connection,  shared fellowship and story by soloing? Don’t misunderstand, I have been a soloist and singer most all of my life. I love to sing, and I love to hear singers. We need soloists.  It’s just that there are some pieces of community where the collective voice has gone silent, and almost extinct, and that bothers me. I’m glad my kids here professionals and soloists sing the National Anthem, but they also need to hear the voices of their neighbors, and the American Veterans singing that song together even if their voices aren’t as polished. My kids need to see and hear their grandparent’s generation singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and watch them get caught up in the goodness of a God that has carried them through the years, as badly as they need to hear their favorite worship band sing their newest release. Both are valuable. Together they tell the story of God’s goodness. Together they give depth and meaning to the lyric and rhyme.

Wiser people have written on this subject, and I can’t begin to articulate the nuances of our culture shifts like others can. My friend Manuel Luz, a worship pastor has written several articles like this one, and I would recommend reading his thoughts on the aging out of worshipers, and other cultural hurdles in our churches on his site: www. manuelluz.com .

Honestly, I don’t have all of the solutions, and I certainly have no desire to pick on churches or sporting events. Our culture is shifting in front of our eyes, and there is a lot to keep up with, but I do want to get a conversation going. So, I would love to hear your thoughts on these things. Do you notice the silence of the collected voice? Does it bother you? How has your church or organization dealt with these issues?

 

Judging God

“It’s unfair.”  “I don’t deserve this.”  “I haven’t done anything wrong.”  “Why me?”

Have you ever asked these questions or made these statements? Not long after we learn to speak as children, we learn to say “No fair!” as we observe the injustices (perceived or real) around us.  We long for everything to be fair, for our needs to be considered and met, to be granted  a life free of competition that diminishes us, and from the pain that wounds us.  Even when we are in the midst of a good experience, we will often look over our shoulder to see someone who seems to be having a better experience, and wish for that instead of what we currently possess.  With this sense of  justice, fairness, and satisfaction ingrained in our humanity, we are forever attempting to define the parameters of what these things should mean.

What do you do when your sense of justice, fairness and satisfaction seem to be violated by God Himself?  What do you do when your prayer is not being answered?  What solution is there when you are not experiencing the good you feel you deserve in life, and there is no one to blame it on but God?  Well, if you are anything like me, you might just put God on trial.

Judging God is done in the way you think and act.  It takes a few steps.  First, you have to believe that you know better than God what is needed in your situation.  Next you will have to judge Him according to your present knowledge.

“How do you judge God?” you may be wondering.

You hold a mental trial, or a social one.  One is done privately in your own mind, and the other is done in a group, or via internet interface. You would assess your situation and find all of the negatives, weaknesses, struggles, and frustrations. You would then seek to establish a timeline for the reversal of these negatives and place that responsibility on God.  “I would like this all to change right now!” (for instance.) If this timeline you established is not honored, or if it feels ignored, you have grounds for judging God.

But how can God be punished?

You can choose to ignore God.  Stop praying.  Discontinue church attendance. Fill your time with ways to assuage your pain– like numbing through addictions, or escapes.  Close your eyes to the people around you.  Close your heart to the life happening all around you–reserving all of your affection and joy for the moment that your need is met, and your prayer is answered. Refuse to lift your head and give God thanks until He meets your demands. Do not acknowledge the goodness around you. Stop appreciating the air you breathe, the heart beating in your chest, and any beauty around you. Refuse to be amused at the budding of a flower, the laughter of a baby, the kindness of a smile, or the flavor of a meal. Do not open your heart to goodness until your demands are met.

Spend time finding alternative answers for the goodness you find around you in the midst of your pain.  Take opinion polls on whether or not God even exists.  Create new definitions of good and evil with your personal comfort at the center of the definition.

You can only begin to build your case if you make your experience the ultimate reality, and God the superficial one.  When you measure God by your standard of goodness, and your parameters of justice, you will make a compelling case….for awhile.

You will be forced, however, to draw from all cases of human suffering and injustice to buoy your cause and prove that there could not be a good God if evil happens in the world.  Your case will have to rest heavily on the value of humanity–children, innocents, poor and destitute.  You will have to come up with a way to prove that people are valuable in some intrinsic way all the while denying a God who gave them that intrinsic worth.  You will have to prove that your standard of goodness is the one that God is bound to, and you will have to forego the fact that you cannot see the end from the beginning but are willing to pass judgements anyways.

Yet, if you are less than a hundred years old, it is well-known that you could not have possibly established the parameters of goodness.  Goodness had to be here before you or I arrived.  The fact that you know there is such a thing as goodness, tells me that there is a God.  The idea that God should do good comes from the sense inside of you that goodness is what God is and what He should be up to, and that sense did not originate with you since you are new to the planet.

Who then is the one being punished here?  Isn’t it you?  Isn’t it the one walled in by pride who cannot see the beauty around them or feel the warmth of friendship?  Isn’t it you, the one who built a throne of judgement and sat yourself upon it indicting God for all that He has not done in regards to you who is struggling with addiction, anger, lonliness, and the desire to jettison the planet? Who is losing here?

How do you break free?

You  will have to re-calibrate your thinking.  Allowing God to set the parameters of reality, you can bring your needs to Him.  Your pain, your fear, your loss, your frustration needs a good God.  (And that is in fact what He is.) Maybe you have already discovered that there is nothing inside of you that can change your circumstances.  At best you can numb yourself or distract yourself, but you cannot heal or redeem yourself.

When with thankfulness and wonder you open your eyes again to the beauty around you, and express it in worship to the One to whom it is due, when you acknowledge the kindness of strangers, the brilliance of creation, the devotion of love, the faithfulness of friendship, and the wonder of mystery, acknowledging the Source of it all, you begin to break free.  When you look at God’s track record of goodness and faithfulness, and reminisce on the promises He has made and has already fulfilled, and when you acknowledge Him as the ultimate reality, you step down from the judgement throne and take your place at His feet in earnest expectation.

Because God is not a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19), and because every good and perfect thing comes from Him (James 1:17), you can be honest in your appreciation of all the good in your life that He has established.  You can worship Him in gratitude for what He has given you.  It is reasonable to trust Him for the things you don’t yet understand, because He has proven Himself faithful in the past.  You can wait with expectation because He has promised that even if you do not see the fulness of the justice you are longing for right now, He has promised to set all things right and bring about ultimate justice not just for you, but for all that He has made.

Your evidence of God’s faithfulness and goodness will be the the only judgment of His character you can sustain.  Step down from the place of judgment, and find yourself again at His feet in worship. DSC01817

Photo credit: Bethany Morris

Thanks

thank youThis time of year is particularly geared in both the commercial sense and the existential sense towards gratitude.  Facebook is brimming with 30 day thankfulness challenges, and people are engaging with lists of things they appreciate.  As part of the celebration of Thanksgiving, many people are jumping in with both feet to express as much gratitude as possible in 30 days.  To whom is this appreciation directed?  The answers will vary, and some expressions of gratitude actually have no destination at all.

Thankfulness is a feeling that one can have of appreciation for gifts given or grace received, but “giving thanks” is different.  Giving thanks must have a giver and a recipient.  When we give thanks, it is on purpose and with purpose, directed to someone(s) who can receive it.

When I talk to people about cultivating a lifestyle of worship, this topic of giving thanks becomes paramount.  Living  a life of thankfulness is the starting place of a lifestyle of worship, and I don’t mean just the feeling of thankfulness, because that comes and goes.  Thankfulness must take on an action, and must be offered on purpose.

It is the reason your mom had you write thank you cards to your aunt when she gave you a birthday gift.  It is the reasoning behind phone calls to friends and families to express your appreciation for who they are or what they have done.  It is the thinking behind trophies, award ceremonies, tributes, and parties thrown in someone’s honor.  There is an act of thankfulness and appreciation, and it is directed to someone, for someone, and very purposeful.

I have to admit that my generation (myself included) has forgotten or lost the art of “giving thanks” and trades it instead for a general “feeling of appreciation” that never reaches its intended destination.  Prayers around the dinner table turn to rhyme or habit, and no longer speak to someone ever-present, but chime as a tune to someone we once knew, or learned about.  Thankfulness from the masses is now a feeling expressed to the universe (which cannot receive it), not to individuals, who can, let alone God who deserves it.

There is  joy and healing found in gratitude, but it can only be discovered in “giving thanks”.   Giving thanks might mean staying on the line a few extra minutes to speak to a manager of a department in order to praise their employee who gave you great customer service.  It might mean, buying a gift for the lady who babysits your children in Fred Meyer so that you can shop in peace.  When you look people in the eye and say “Thank you,” or when you begin to take stock of your life and realize the millions of things that are yours because of a gift of love and grace, you will find a million reasons to be thankful, and hopefully a million ways to give thanks.

Worship is wrapped up in the discipline of recognizing God’s multitude of gifts and giving thanks to Him directly when that gift is recognized.  It is seeing every breath, every physical sensation, every visual delight, and every expression of grace as being gifts given by God the Creator who delights in giving them over and over and over to every generation.  When you see that sunset and think “Wow! that’s beautiful!” take another step and tell God how beautiful it is.  Tell Him how it impacts you at that moment.  Talk about what you are seeing, feeling, and experiencing in that moment of awe.  Express thanks on purpose.  If your children are with you, tell them about what the beauty means to you and who the Author of that beauty is, and teach them to say “thank you” too.

I want to challenge you in this season and beyond, to go past the lists of thankfulness you may acquire over the the course of this month, and take the extra time to actually thank those responsible for the gifts you are appreciating.  And when you have thanked individuals for the grace they have bestowed on you, turn your praise and thankfulness to God from whom all blessings flow, and thank Him personally, from your heart, with all the gratitude you feel inside.  Express your thanks in a way that matches the amount of thankfulness you feel, and then some.  This is at the heart of worship.

In the Waiting

Between the dreams and goals we have in life are these spaces of life called “the waiting”.  While we are looking ahead to the next bend in the road, or mending something torn from the last season of our life, there are moments, days, months, and maybe even years of waiting.  We all get them.  We all will continue to have them.

It’s often called the “in between”, or the “not yet”, and it is that seemingly long pause in the midst of life.  You feel it when you are waiting to hear the results of your job interview, or the update on your adoption status.  It’s the down-time in the waiting room, or the layover in the airport.  It is the long season of singleness, or the journey of barrenness.  It’s the prayer that isn’t yet answered, or the dream that isn’t being fulfilled.  This list could go on…

The difference in your life in “the waiting” will be made in what you choose “here”, and how you live.  So, in the “in-between”:

Pray.  I say this not with the intention of reserving prayer only for this season of life, because prayer should be a part of our daily life and breathing, but these moments are precious and can be made deep and meaningful by relationship with God that we cultivate while here in life’s waiting room.  Have many conversations with God covering every topic you can think of.  You will be surprised and warmed by the heart of God that is ever turned towards you.

Worship.  Your deepest need and mine is to connect to our Heavenly Father and be caught up in His splendor in the midst of our “nothingness”.  When we feel there is nothing to celebrate, run towards, or achieve, it is then that we need a different perspective, and there is nothing like looking into the face of God to change our outlook.  Read Job 38 for a view of God’s abilities beyond your “nothing”, and worship.

Study.  Some of your best education happens in the “in-between” spaces of life.  Learn something new, try a new hobby, add to your knowledge by researching, traveling, spending time with people, joining a club, organization, or take a class or two.  Add disciplines to your life in these free moments.  Disciplines will help keep you from wasting your life in the now and in the future.

Embrace.  Embrace another along the road.  Share in the help and encouragement of another traveler on the way.  Teach what you know, give what you have, “pay it forward”.

Feel.  Your capacity for love and capacity for pain go hand in hand.  Don’t numb your heart to save yourself pain.  Open your heart to God, pour out your deepest pains, and be content with leaving them in His hands.  Open your heart to others.  Forgive, try again, start anew.  Laugh, smile, and engage.

Practice Thankfulness.  Delight in something daily and give thanks– if even the rays of sun through the window, or the faithful dog at your side.  Enjoy your food, gather flowers, read books, take stock of your life and give thanks to the One who gives it to you as a gift.

Remember.  Journal, photograph, blog, or record in some way the things God has done for you.  Share them with as many people as you can in as many ways as you can.  Never forget His faithfulness.  If He was faithful then, won’t He be the same now?  The answer is, “YES!”

Psalm 30:5

For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Jeremiah 32:27

27 “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?

Italy Window


My Deep Breath

Having a few physical complications from time to time give cause for me to take painkillers for relief.  Often, I ignore my condition as long as I can, and carry on.  Other times, my pain is brought to my attention by the way I am breathing…short, shallow and often.  Paying attention to the way I breathe is a clue to me about how my body is processing pain.

I have to admit that I love the feeling of the release from pain that is accompanied by a couple of “Aleve” tablets.  This is characterized by my lungs taking in a deep breath of air and exhaling slowly.  Sometimes, the big exhale is what alerts me to the fact that my body is relaxing and no longer talking about pain.

One of my favorite songs by Jonathan Stockstill, is a song called “I Need You”.  The song borrows it’s lyrics and themes from the scripture:

Acts 17:28

28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Worship and prayer are our deepest breaths.  When you find you are breathing quickly, and your heart is hurried and cannot be still, you need to worship.  When your pain is overwhelming you and your hope is waning, you need moments in the presence of God where your “time stands still” and you are receiving the strength, life and breath of the One who formed and fashioned you in His image.

Take a deep breath today of the presence of  God.  Come into His presence with worship, prayer, and thankfulness.  Tell Him “I Need You”, and then wait while He breathes into you the strength you need.  Listen as He sings your victory and your hope over you today. Let Him be your deep breath.

If Jesus Had not Been Born…in Me

If Jesus Had Not Been Born in Me

By Cate Morris  (c) November 2012

 

Forged entirely by my pain,

All things loss, and nothing gained,

Grasping in a world insane,

That’s where I would be.

 

Becoming foolish as I grew,

Spurning grace I saw in You.

Painting life  in colors cruel

If my life was left to me.

 

Scripting through a guilty rage,

Living life on Anger’s stage,

Unforgiving, living caged,

Excused hypocrisy.

 

Spewing bitter’s venom still,

Forcing “my way”, exalting My will.

Choosing to take the fatal pill

My would-be destiny.

 

But my life is not my design.

I was fashioned in the mind

Of One who always takes His time

But still is never late.

 

Who forms my beauty from the ash,

Exchanges value for my trash,

And never tires of the task

Of making something great.

 

He whisked me off of Anger’s stage,

Forgiving, breaking every cage.

His Mercy re-wrote every page

Of my new-born life.

 

“Little Baby in the hay

Did you know that You someday

Would rescue me with blood-red pay?

You’d heal me with Your stripes?

 

You would own my guilty soul,

Pay it’s debts to see me whole,

While never leaving the Father’s role,

You’d give me heaven’s worth?”

 

I see You in Nativity

But more,  I see You born in me!

And my heart will forever be

Rejoicing for your birth.

 

O Come Let us adore Him…Christ the Lord!